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Developmental programming of the female reproductive system—a review

last modified Jan 05, 2021 08:22 AM

Sijia Yao, Jorge Lopez-Tello, Amanda N Sferruzzi-Perri




Exposures to adverse conditions in utero can lead to permanent changes in the structure and function of key physiological systems in the developing fetus, increasing the risk of disease and premature aging in later postnatal life. When considering the systems that could be affected by an adverse gestational environment, the reproductive system of developing female offspring may be particularly important, as changes have the potential to alter both reproductive capacity of the first generation, as well as health of the second generation through changes in the oocyte. The aim of this review is to examine the impact of different adverse intrauterine conditions on the reproductive system of the female offspring. It focuses on the effects of exposure to maternal undernutrition, overnutrition/obesity, hypoxia, smoking, steroid excess, endocrine disrupting chemicals and pollutants during gestation and draws on data from human and animal studies to illuminate underlying mechanisms. The available data indeed indicate that adverse gestational environments alter the reproductive physiology of female offspring with consequences for future reproductive capacity. These alterations are mediated via programmed changes in the hypothalamic–pituitary gonadal axis and the structure and function of reproductive tissues, particularly the ovaries. Reproductive programming may be observed as a change in the timing of puberty onset and menopause/reproductive decline, altered menstrual/estrous cycles, polycystic ovaries and elevated risk of reproductive tissue cancers. These reproductive outcomes can affect the fertility and fecundity of the female offspring, however, further work is needed to better define the possible impact of these programmed changes on subsequent generations.

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